In a recent development, a report by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) has found that there is ‘remarkably little evidence’ to support the notion that banning alcohol advertising leads to a decrease in alcohol consumption. This report comes in the wake of the Scottish Government’s decision to reconsider its stringent limitations on advertising within the alcohol industry.

The IEA, a free-market think tank, has released this report after reviewing academic literature on the effectiveness of advertising bans on alcoholic products. The report, titled Alcohol Advertising: What does the evidence show?, is based in part on a Cochrane Review published in 2014. The review found that there is a significant lack of robust evidence to recommend the implementation of alcohol advertising restrictions.

Advertising Impact on Alcohol Sales

The report discovered that while advertising does boost the sales of individual brands, it does not increase total sales. Christopher Snowdon, the report’s author and Head of Lifestyle Economics at the IEA, stated that there is ‘remarkably little evidence’ to support the claim that banning alcohol advertising would reduce alcohol-related harm in society.

Snowdon further explained, “Advertising affects the market share of individual brands, but the amount of money spent on alcohol advertising has no effect on alcohol consumption overall. This is how advertising works in every other mature market, and it would be a surprise if alcohol were any different.”

Studies and Statistics

Three Canadian studies, based on advertising restrictions in British Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, found no effect on consumption. A 2010 cross-sectional study from 17 OECD countries between 1975 and 2000 similarly found that ‘advertising bans do not reduce alcohol demand.’

Between 1991 and 2001, advertising of alcoholic products fell by 10.8% in Britain, but alcohol consumption rose by 15.8%. Snowdon warned that the claims from anti-alcohol campaigners about the threat of advertising ‘should be taken with a pinch of salt.’

Scottish Government’s Stance

A Scottish Government consultation on advertising and promotion of alcoholic products closed on 9 March 2023. The plans proposed by Holyrood to restrict advertising were met with wide criticism from the industry. More than 100 drinks firms joined forces to challenge Scottish ministers on moves which could restrict alcohol marketing.

Humza Yousaf, who took over as First Minister on 29 March 2023, said he backed the aim of measures to reduce the harm caused by alcohol to children. However, he accepted that the proposals had caused ‘real concern’ among the trade. Yousaf now claims he has instructed Scottish Government staff to ‘take these ideas back to the drawing board, work with the industry, and crucially with public health stakeholders, to agree on a new set of proposals.’